We’ll be trying to remember when it was good in December…
The start of what is usually the most anticipated month by a child as they’re young.
The month of Christmas programs, and visits to Santa and visits from Santa. Christmas lights. Christmas cookies. Presents. Stockings. Family time. Church programs. Candlelight Christmas Eve service. Advent calendars and the chocolate hiding behind each door.
The list goes on.
A month where the anticipation and the excitement becomes unbearable at times for the impatience of a child.
And then December 26th comes, the novelty of the new presents somewhat worn off already, but the anticipation for NEXT Christmas begins.
For us, December used to have so much promise and excitement.
Now, we brace ourselves for more heartache and yearning of the way things used to be.
Looking back a year ago, December was the last ‘normal’ month during Avery’s fight against brain cancer.
I mean, as much as you can call a 7-year old having her body ravaged by a killer that she stood no shot against, ‘normal’. But it was the last month we had together as a family to celebrate the Christmas season. To make every moment count. To make it the most memorable Christmas ever for Avery. To go above and beyond and see every light we could, every Christmas movie we could, and savor each moment.
It was literally no more than 45 minutes into New Years Day that Avery, for the first time in months, complained about pain in her head. She had a great New Years Eve- going to the zoo in the morning, then having her first ‘New Years Eve party’ where she picked the menu and we surprised her with a magician for entertainment.
December 31st, 2015 was the last day I can remember where fear didn’t dominate the entire day. Only some of it. The next day, not more than an hour into the new year, just as the ball dropped and the clock turned, came the pain- and instantly, Amanda and I looked at each other, our hearts simultaneously sinking, as if we both knew. Just 10 days later, we were told that Avery’s tumor had grown and was in progression, she would have surgery two days after, and would be on hospice for the rest of her life, which ended too damn short, on February 16th, 216.
So as we start December today, I look back at last December, and try to remember those moments of happiness, of laughter, of unbridled excitement, that Avery had.
Whether it was the Nutcracker we saw at two different locations, one, where they brought Avery up early for a special sneak peak and tour and lavished her with gifts and attention, going to see Kendall in the Sound of Music at the 5th Avenue Theater, with a trip to Mod Pizza before. Or maybe it was the SYL Foundation Christmas Party, where Avery beamed with pride when Alex, Cade and Addison got presents from Santa too, Avery so thrilled to see her brother and sisters get gifts too. The 1st Grade Christmas Performance for LHES, with the unforgettable moment of Kendall reaching her hand out to Avery during a song, a moment that still brings us tears and chills. Visiting Santa and him giving her a few extra moments to tell him what she wanted. Maybe it was the movies we watched that month, all of the Christmas movies you could imagine. Avery telling us to put her favorite Christmas song to sing, ‘Feliz Navidad’ on as soon as we got into the car. It could have been the baking that Avery did with Amanda or with her Nana. The different Christmas parties she went to, where she laughed and smiled and was so happy, not even worrying about her plight.
For me, it was how she lit up when she’d see the lights on our house or on our Christmas tree. It meant Christmas was right around the corner.
But it meant she was at home, enjoying those moments with her family.
Her family that, one December later, misses her with more heartache and pain and sadness than can be described.
On Tuesday night, we got our Christmas tree. The tree looks different this year. It doesn’t have the traditional ornaments that our tree usually has.
This year, the Christmas tree has pink and green everywhere. Ornaments newly picked up over the last few months that remind us of our little girl. Peppa Pig, Pizza, a pink and green Princess, you name it. If its pink or green and reminds us of Avery, it’s on the tree.
Tradition used to dictate that Alex always put the Angel on top of the tree. Last year, Alex conceded that honor to Avery. I lifted her up and with a smile that could outshine the Griswold house, Avery placed the angel on top of the tree.
This year, we put a crown on top of the tree. Our angel is Avery. Instead of an angel on top of the tree, we thought it was fitting to put the crown, like a princess would wear, on top. And this year, Addison got to put the crown on the tree, and she said, as I lifted her up, “oh, this is just like Avery last year!”
Next to our tree is a picture of Avery. She may not be here to celebrate Christmas with us on earth. But we’re not going to celebrate Christmas without seeing that smile every second we can.
Thanksgiving was hard. Very hard. So many people we know who lost their child told us to brace for it, to be prepared and to understand, it would be even harder.
They nailed it.
It seemed like it would be like many other Thanksgivings before, all the family at Avery’s aunt and uncle, all the cousins playing together.
But it was clear there was a universe-sized void.
It was awful.
And now we get to spend a whole month anticipating another holiday, with that void still being enormous, with no chance of being filled.
It’s hard to celebrate Christmas this year. We’re 24 days away and I’m already able to make that determination.
It’s going to be hard to celebrate it for the rest of my life. No doubt.
But we’re going to try.
Because Avery would have been ticked if she knew we weren’t feeling Christmas celebration.
Christmas was her favorite time of year. She loved it. And frankly, the last good memories we have of her before her decline began, were at Christmas.
So we’ll try to catch lightning in a bottle and make it work.
We’ll watch the movies that Avery had on her list, likely with tears in our eyes. We’ll sing and listen to Christmas music like Avery would have demanded us to in the car.
We’ll bake, we’ll hang our stockings, we’ll decorate the tree, we’ll have some lights. We’ll make gingerbread houses. We’ll go to see the Christmas Lights in Spanaway. She wouldn’t want us not to.
But flat out, it won’t be the same. It never will be.
And it’s going to be painful. No matter how hard we try.
And please, save the, ‘celebrate for the other kids’ line. It’s not easy for them. They are smart enough to know that elephant is in the room. Each one of them have said at various times how hard Christmas will be for them without their sister. Sure, they want to celebrate Christmas too- because they know Avery would have wanted to and because it’s a nice distraction. But the void is there for them, too.
So like with everything, we adjust and pivot and try to make things as normal as possible.
But the void is there. The pain is there. The sadness is there.
And it will be for a long, long time.
So bear with us. If we’re not peppy this Holiday season, if I’m not the jolliest person around, know that it’s not you. It’s me.
Better yet, it’s Avery. We miss her. And as much as we’ll try to celebrate and be festive, it will be hard, knowing what WON’T be there this Christmas season.
That would be an 8-year old girl, with so much excitement and promise in her eyes. Instead, the eyes of her family will be filled with tears pretty easily.
We know the true meaning of Christmas in our home- the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The Greatest Gift we could have ever received.
And we’re given some comfort in knowing that Avery will spend this Christmas, and every Christmas, WITH the Greatest Gift, with Jesus in heaven. And we are comforted in knowing that someday we’ll be spending our Christmases doing the same, with Avery.
But in the now, the pain is there. A pain that only Christ can comfort.
Which is why this Holiday season, like we have since Avery’s diagnosis 17 months ago, we cling to the promises of Christ.
That, more than anything, will carry us through December and beyond.
The void is there. The pain is there. It’s not going anywhere.
We miss Avery more than can even be described. It hits us as varying times- me, as her brother and sisters decorated the tree, Amanda when she sees an old picture Avery drew.
It’s a sucky way to get through the day.
We’ll try. We’ll try hard. But it’s going to be tough.
So all we can do is try to remember the happy times Avery celebrated each December and remember the happiness that she had last year, despite a body failing her, a body that betrayed her and made it her last Christmas.
We’ll smile because she did. We’ll get up each day because she did.
It just won’t be easy.
Yet we’ll try. Because we know where she is. It may not be with us, but it’s where we aspire to celebrate Christmas and everything else after our time on earth here is done.
In Christ, with the Ultimate Gift, the Gift of Jesus.
-Brandon and Amanda